1897 Challenge Cup

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The NFU Challenge Cup
The first ever Challenge Cup Final, 1897: Batley(l) vs St Helens(r)

The 1897 Challenge Cup was the first time the Northern Rugby Football Union's tournament for the Challenge Cup was held and involved 52 clubs from across England. Played over five rounds in March and April 1897, it culminated in a Final which was won by Batley.[1][2]


Many Rugby players had found it difficult, if not impossible, to play regularly as it meant missing a day's work, with the consequence of the loss in a days earning. "Broken Time" payments was a possible answer to compensate for this loss of income. Generally the southern clubs did not have quite as serious a problem and were less sympathetic.

In 1892 charges of professionalism were made by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) against clubs in Bradford and Leeds, after they compensated players for missing work (although at that time the RFU was allowing other players to be paid (e.g. the 1888 British Isles team that toured Australia)).

In 1893 many Yorkshire clubs complained that southern clubs were dominating the RFU committee, and as all the committee meetings were held in London, this made it difficult, expensive and generally inconvenient for the Yorkshire members to attend. In effect they were arguing that there was a bias by the few southern clubs with "gentlemen" players against the many northern clubs with more "working class" players over the issue of "Broken Time" payments.

"Broken Time"[edit]

The Yorkshire clubs had put forward a proposal that would allow players to receive up to six shillings, if and when they lost a full days work and hence pay because of match commitments. The RFU voted against this and widespread suspensions of Yorkshire clubs began.

These clubs met to discussed a break away, maybe encouraged by the success of the similar action taken in 1888 by the Northern Association football teams.[citation needed]

This meeting was held on Tuesday, 20 August 1895, at a meeting at the Mitre Hotel,[3] Leeds, when the twelve clubs agreed they should form a Northern Union, not as a complete breakaway, but with ties to the RFU. A five-man panel met a sub-committee of the Yorkshire Union to discuss a scheme to settle the 'dispute'. The Union however immediately rejected the proposal out of hand.

On 27 August 1895 an emergency meeting was held by nine Lancashire clubs (Broughton Rangers, Leigh, Oldham, Rochdale Hornets, St. Helens, Tyldesley, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan) in Manchester resulting in their support of their Yorkshire counterparts if they decided to break away.

The George, Huddersfield[edit]

Two days later representatives of 21 top northern clubs met in The George Hotel, Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a setting which was to become famous (or infamous) in the world of rugby. These 21 clubs were Batley (established 1880), Bradford 1863, Brighouse Rangers 1878, Broughton Rangers 1877, Dewsbury 1875, Halifax 1873, Huddersfield 1864, Hull F.C. 1865, Hunslet 1883, Leeds 1864, Leigh 1878, Liversedge 1877, Manningham 1876, Oldham 1876, Rochdale Hornets 1871, St. Helens 1873, Tyldesley 1879, Wakefield Trinity 1873, Warrington 1875, Widnes 1875, Wigan 1872. The reperesentative of the Cheshire club, Stockport, had been unable to attend but had telegraphed the meeting requesting admission to the new organisation and was duly accepted.

The meeting was to discuss, debate and vote on their future. Twenty clubs agreed to resign from the Rugby Union; only Dewsbury did not. A second Cheshire club, Runcorn (1876) were admitted at the next meeting, becoming the twenty-second member in the inaugural season's league.

The following day the Huddersfield Examiner reported:[3] "On Thursday night, a meeting of the representatives of the Senior Clubs of Lancashire and Yorkshire was held at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, to consider the question of the formation of a northern Football Union. The meeting was held in private and lasted close on three hours. At the conclusion, representatives of the press were informed the following men had been present at the meeting: Mr H H Waller (Brighouse), Mr J Platt (Oldham), Mr J Nicholl (Halifax), Mr H Sewell (Leeds), Mr F Lister (Bradford), Mr C A Brewer (Hull), Mr J Clifford (Huddersfield), Mr J L Whittaker (Hunslet), Mr J H Fallas (Wakefield), Mr F Wright (Widnes), Mr E Gresty (Broughton Rangers), Mr J Goodall (Batley), Mr F Dennett (St Helens), Mr J Quirk (Leigh), Mr J Warren (Warrington), Mr G Taylor (Tyldesley), Mr E Wardle (Wigan), Mr A Fattorini (Manningham), Mr W Brierley (Rochdale Hornets), Mr J H Hampshire (Liversedge) and Mr C Holdsworth (Dewsbury). Mr Waller was elected to the chair and Mr Platt was elected secretary. The first resolution adopted was: "The clubs here represented decide to form a Northern Rugby Football Union, and pledge themselves to push forward without delay its establishment on the principle of payment for bona fide broken time only."

The schism[edit]

With the resolution passed at the George the "Northern Rugby Football Union"[4] (usually termed Northern Union or NU) came into existence.

The RFU authorities took immediate action against clubs, officials and players from the breakaway clubs, together with anyone who played with or against them.

They (the RFU) issued a decree banning the playing of rugby at grounds where entrance fees were charged[5][6]

In fact any player who had any contact with the Northern Union was thrown out of the Rugby Union. In February 1896, a Wyke[7] player was banned for life for travelling with Brighouse Rangers to a match at Leigh, despite not even playing in the match.[6]
Many other similar and seemingly petty and ridiculous incidents took place including in .
Possibly most bizarrely of all, in January 1898 Goole RUFC were ordered by the governing body of rugby union, the RFU, not to play a charity rugby match against a touring Little Red Riding Hood pantomime troupe; this was deemed to be an act of professionalism because earlier on its tour the troupe had played in a charity match with Batley.[6]

The NRFU became the Northern Rugby Football League[8] in the summer of 1922

Eventually the "Northern" was dropped from its name in the summer of 1980.

During the first season the clubs competed in one league. For the second season, with the expansion by 8 new clubs to 30, the clubs competed in two separate regional leagues (Lancashire/Cheshire & Yorkshire).[9]

During this second season, the Northern Rugby Football Union Challenge Cup was introduced by the Northern Union. In 1896 Fattorini's of Bradford were commissioned to manufacture the Challenge Cup at a cost of just £60. Fattorini's also supplied winners' medals, 15-carat gold medals £3 3s apiece.

The first competition was held at the end of this 1896–97 season with 56 clubs entering. The first final was held at Headingley in Leeds, on 24 April 1897. Batley defeated St. Helens 10-3[10] in front of a crowd of 13,492

Competition and Results[edit]

Round 1[edit]

Round 1 involved 20 matches and 40 clubs. 12 additional clubs (Batley, Bradford Church Hill, Brighouse Rangers, Crompton, Heckmondwike, Liversedge, St Helens Recs, Stockport, Swinton Church, Thornton Rangers, Tyldesley and Werneth) were given a bye to the next round.

Game No Fixture Date Home Team Score Away Team Att Notes Ref
1 20 Mar 1897 Bradford 7–3 Oldham 1,2
2 20 Mar 1897 Bramley 8–8 Morecambe 1,3,4
Replay Bramley 6–4 Morecambe 1
3 20 Mar 1897 Broughton Rangers 0–0 Warrington 5 [11]
Replay 24 Mar 1897 Warrington 3–0 Broughton Rangers 41 [11]
4 20 Mar 1897 Castleford 43–3 Allerton 1,6,7
5 20 Mar 1897 Eastmoor 26–8 Oldham Juniors 1,8,9
6 20 Mar 1897 Halifax 55–5 Stockport Rangers 1,10,11
7 20 Mar 1897 Holbeck 38–3 Latchford Rangers 1,12,13 [12]
8 20 Mar 1897 Hull 9–0 Walkden 14 [13]
9 20 Mar 1897 Hunslet 75–5 Broughton Recreation 15,16
10 20 Mar 1897 Leeds 11–0 Rochdale St Clements 17,18
11 20 Mar 1897 Leeds Parish Church 42–0 Runcorn Recreation 1,19,20
12 20 Mar 1897 Leigh 0–0 Wakefield Trinity 21 [9]
Replay Wakefield Trinity 13–4 Leigh [9]
13 29 Mar 1897 Manningham 31–3 Dukinfield 22,23
14 20 Mar 1897 Rochdale Hornets 11–0 Waterhead Hornets 1,24
15 20 Mar 1897 Runcorn 65–0 Warrington Loco 13,25 [12]
16 20 Mar 1897 St. Helens 66–0 Lees 13,14 [14]
17 20 Mar 1897 Salford 28–0 Warrington St Mary's 1,13,28 [12]
18 20 Mar 1897 Swinton 12–4 Huddersfield 1
19 20 Mar 1897 Widnes 55–0 Atherton Hornets 29,30 [15]
20 20 Mar 1897 Wigan 3–0 Radcliffe 31,32,32 [16]

Round 2[edit]

Round 2 involved 16 matches and 32 clubs.

Game No Fixture Date Home Team Score Away Team Att Notes Ref
1 Bradford 68–3 Swinton Church 1,2,37
2 Bramley 0–11 Batley 1
3 Brighouse Rangers 13–4 Wakefield Trinity [9]
4 Crompton 26–0 Bradford Church Hill 34,35
5 Eastmoor 3–3 Stockport 1,8,41
Replay Stockport 28–8 Eastmoor 1,8
6 Leeds Parish Church 0–11 Halifax 1
7 Liversedge 9–4 Heckmondwike 1
8 Rochdale Hornets 8–0 St Helens Recs 1,36
9 Runcorn 52–4 Thornton Rangers 1,38
10 27 Mar 1897 St. Helens 17–3 Castleford 44,6 [14]
11 Salford 30–0 Werneth 1,40
12 Swinton 15–0 Hunslet 1
13 Tyldesley 9–3 Leeds 39
14 27 Mar 1897 Warrington 24–0 Holbeck 42,12 [11]
15 27 Mar 1897 Widnes 11–0 Hull 45 [13][15]
16 Wigan 7–0 Manningham 22,43 [16]

Round 3 - Eighth Finals[edit]

Round 3 involved 8 matches and 16 clubs.

Game No Fixture Date Home Team Score Away Team Att Notes Ref
1 Batley 6–3 Brighouse Rangers 1
2 Bradford 4–8 Tyldesley 1,2,39
3 Halifax 56–0 Crompton 35
4 3 Apr 1897 Rochdale Hornets 3–3 Swinton 46 [17]
Replay Swinton 10–0 Rochdale Hornets 49 [17]
5 3 Apr 1897 St. Helens 11–0 Wigan 5,000 47 [14][16]
6 Stockport 6–0 Salford 1
7 3 Apr 1897 Warrington 6–0 Liversedge [11]
8 3 Apr 1897 Widnes 14–6 Runcorn 48 [15]

Round 4 - Quarter Finals[edit]

The quarter finals involved four matches and eight clubs.

Game No Fixture Date Home Team Score Away Team Att Notes Ref
1 10 Apr 1897 Batley 10–0 Widnes [15]
2 10 Apr 1897 St. Helens 12–0 Tyldesley 18,49 [14]
3 Swinton 3–0 Stockport 1
4 10 Apr 1897 Warrington 10–8 Halifax 50 [11]

Round 5 - Semi Finals[edit]

The semi finals involved two matches and four clubs. Due to a waterlogged pitch, the tie between St Helens and Swinton was postponed until Monday 19 April.[18]

17 April 1897
Batley 6–0 Warrington
Tries: Spurr, Davies
19 April 1897
St. Helens 7–0 Swinton
Tries: Little
Drop Goals: Jacques
Wheater's Field, Broughton
Attendance: 20,000
Referee/s: E. Holmes


The final took place on 24 April 1897 at Headingley. The official attendance was 13,492, with gate receipts of £624.17.7d.[19] The cup was presented by Mrs Waller, the wife of the president of the Northern Union.

24 April 1897
Batley 10–3 St. Helens
Tries: John Goodall, J. T. 'Paudie' Munns
Drop goals: Joe Oakland
Report Tries: David Traynor
Headingley, Leeds
Attendance: 13,492

Notes and comments[edit]

1 — fixture and results from the book "Rugby League Challenge Cup - An illustrated history by Les Hoole"[20]
2 — Bradford became Bradford Park Avenue A.F.C. in 1907, in what is known as "The Great Betrayal" when a small majority of members decided to abandon the Northern Union game and change code to Association football. They played at the Park Avenue ground
3 — Morecambe gave up ground advantage
4 — replay date unknown
5 — replay (24 March 1897).[11]
6 — This Castleford club had no connection with the later Castleford Tigers
7 — Allerton were a junior or amateur club, assume from Bradford
8 — Eastmoor were a junior club from Wakefield, who despite many ups and downs are still in existence.[21] They visited Swinton in the 1900 Challenge Cup, but were well beaten.
9 — Oldham Juniors were a junior or amateur club from Oldham
10 — Stockport Rangers were a junior or amateur club from Stockport
11 — Stockport Rangers gave up ground advantage
12 — Holbeck, a suburb of Leeds, were the original owners of Elland Road Stadium. After they folded in 1904, the ground was rented by the newly formed Leeds City AFC
13 — Warrington Loco, Warrington St Mary's and Latchford Rangers were Warrington junior sides.[12]
14 — Walkden was an amateur club from Salford.
15—At the time, this was a record score in the Northern Union
16 — Broughton Recreation was an amateur club from Broughton, Greater Manchester
17 — Leeds scorers - tries @ 3 pts Clarkson, W Smith, Carys, Goals @ 2 pts Glover
18 — Rochdale St Clements was an amateur club from Rochdale.
19 — Runcorn Recreation were a junior or amateur club from Runcorn
20 — Runcorn Recreation gave up ground advantage
21—replay date unknown
22 — Manningham became Bradford City AFC on 29 May 1903 - on the 23rd annual meeting of Manningham F.C.
23—Described in a report as "Manningham cruised past Dunkinfield" - a misprint which should have read "Dukinfield", an area of Greater Manchester
24 — Waterhead Hornets were a junior club from Waterhead, a former village and now a suburb to the East of Oldham
25—Described in a report as "Runcorn demolished Warrington Loco".
26 — St. Helens scorers Tries Briers 2, Doherty 3, Foulkes 1, Jacques 1, Sutton 1, Traynor 5 - goals Jacques 8.[14]
27 — Lees was an amateur club from Oldham
28 — Warrington St Mary's gave up ground advantage
29 — Widnes scorers - tries Drummond 2, Rispan 2, Weate 2, Brennan 2, Alford 2, Batey, Peacock, Donnelly, Leyshon, Acton (Joe) - goals - Batey 3, Drummond 2.[15]
30 — Atherton H was an amateur club from Leigh.
31 — Radcliffe was a smaller amateur club from Bury who would join the Lancashire Senior League for season 1901.
32—Points value - Try = 3 points. Conversion = 2 points. Drop Goal = 4 points. Penalty = 3 points. Goal from Mark = 4 points.[16]
33 — Wigan scorer Winstanley 1 Penalty.[16]
34 — Bradford Church Hill was an amateur club from Bradford
35 — Crompton, near Oldham. The Lancashire Pennines village team, went further than any other juniors.
36 — St Helens Recs were, at the time, a works team, who later joined the (semi) professional teams in the league system
37 — Swinton Church were a junior club from Swinton, Greater Manchester
38 — Thornton Rangers were a junior or amateur club in Bradford
39 — Tyldesley - In 1911 [14] were the first club to successfully apply to re-join the RFU after cost prove to much a burden in the "Professional" game.[22]
40 — Werneth is a small village (now suburb) in the south west of Oldham
41—replay date unknown
42 — Warrington scorer try Swift 1.[11]
43 — Wigan scorer Blackburn 1T, Walkden 1GM (goal from mark).[16]
44 — St. Helens scorers - Try Briers 2, Doherty 1, O'Hara 2 - goal Jacques 1.[14]
45 — Widnes scorers - tries Nevitt Alford goals - Drummond 2.[15]
46—replay date unknown
47 — St. Helens scorers - try Doherty 1, Doherty 1 - goals Jacques 1.[14]
48 — Widnes scorers - tries Rispan Alford . Drop Goals - Rispan Drummond.[15]
49 — St. Helens scorers - tries David Traynor, Billy Jacques - conv Jacques - Drop Goal Jacques.[14]
50 — This match played in four quarters of 20 minutes each instead of 2 halves because of a very strong wind.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Huxley; David Howes (1980). Encyclopedia of Rugby League Football. London: Robert Hale. pp. 41–43. ISBN 0-7091-8133-7. 
  2. ^ therfl.co.uk. "Key Dates". History & Heritage. Rugby Football League. Retrieved 27 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Rugby Football History, the great schism". 
  4. ^ Fagan, Sean (2008). League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia (PDF). National Museum of Australia. pp. vii. ISBN 978-1-876944-64-3. 
  5. ^ "South Wales Scorpions - A brief history to the origins of Rugby League". 
  6. ^ a b c "After the Aftermath". 
  7. ^ "Wyke ARLFC - Club Info - History". 
  8. ^ Spracklen, Karl (2001). 'Black Pearl, Black Diamonds' Exploring racial identities in rugby league. Routledge. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-415-24629-3. 
  9. ^ a b c d Lindley (with personal recollections by D W Armitage), J C (1873). 100 Years of Rugby - The History of Wakefield Trinity Football Club 1873–7973. The Wakefield Trinity Centeniay Committee. 
  10. ^ Baker, Andrew (20 August 1995). "100 years of rugby league: From the great divide to the Super era". Independent, The. independent.co.uk. Retrieved 25 September 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g "Warrington Wolves - Results Archive - 1897". 
  12. ^ a b c d "wolfbites - The Challenge Cup - Warrington v Featherstone Rovers". 
  13. ^ a b "HULL&PROUD - Stats - Fixtures & Results 1896/1897". Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h "Saints Heritage Society - History - Season 1896–97". 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g "Widnes Vikings - History - Season In Review - 1896-97". 
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Cherry and Whites - Wigan RL History - 1896-97 Season". 
  17. ^ a b "Leeds Rhinos - History - 2009 Carnegie Challenge Cup Fourth Round Preview - Previous RL Challenge Cup meetings - SWINTON LIONS v ROCHDALE HORNETS". 
  18. ^ "The Northern Union: Challenge Cup Competition". The Manchester Guardian. 19 April 1897. p. 3. (Subscription required (help)). 
  19. ^ Raymond Fletcher and David Howes (1991). Rothmans Rugby League Yearbook 1991–1992. Queen Anne Press. ISBN 0-356-17852-8. 
  20. ^ Hoole, Les. Rugby League Challenge Cup - An illustrated history by Les Hoole. 
  21. ^ "Eastmoor Dragons ARLFC". Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  22. ^ Lightfoot, Geoff (6 March 2009). "Tyldesley RFC". Rugby Times. 
  23. ^ "- Warrington Wolves - History - Northern Union - 1895 to 1922 - 1897". 

External links[edit]